Unit 17 Project: Horticultural Production in Biodynamic Practice

Unit Overview -This unit introduces the learners to the concepts of planning and managing a horticultural enterprise. This enterprise can be a vegetable, herb, flower or fruit growing (or a mix of) activity with the aim to trade the grown products, within the context of an educational and therapeutic holding. This project can be considered as a ‘digestion’ of what they learned over the first year. The learner will have the opportunity to develop their own research interests within the context of the project.

 

1.1 Design a cropping plan for given crops

 

At Eyam Edge there was a huge amount of infrastructure work to do before I could even contemplate a cropping plan.  These developments are covered in the 'Projects' section here.

 

The first year cropping plan is included below:

 

1.2 Create the yearly seed/plant order for given crops

 

This year the seed order was made in January from The Seed Cooperative.  Limited seed raising facilities meant space was at a premium.  There is a polytunnel including in the overall design of the horticulture area but we have issues with putting up a polytunnel because of planning permissions.  Fortunately High Riggs provided plant raising facilities on our behalf so we were not at a disadvantage.

 

Nevertheless, I grew a range of seeds at home in unpromising conditions, as the house is in woodland and the light levels are poor.

 

 

  • Soil cultivations: At Eyam we grown in imported topsoil.  I purchased topsoil from a local supplier and then improved it with JPR Gold organic soil improver, provided by a local company at Great Hucklow.  This is mixture of well rotted manure and bark fines which improves the structure and gives the soil a more open texture. I also added differing amounts of our own biodynamic compost to the beds depending on the crops being grown.  The beds were designed to be 40cm deep to give sufficient root depth. Broadforking was done at the start of the season.
  • Biodynamic Measures: Our compost has been made with the addition of the compost preparations.  In addition 500 and 5001 have been sprayed.  CPP is another option that we will employ in the future.
  • Fertility Planning: A six year crop rotation is built into the cropping plan. Adding annual doses of our own compost will be a yearly practice depending on the fertility requirements of the bed in question.  The structure of the soil is improved by broadforking at the beginning of the season.
  • Workforce requirements: I have always felt that I needed more help with the growing areas and this has put significant pressure on my working life.  The first landworker was Marco, but he only worked between January and October 2019.  I also had the support of an untrained landworker called Mikey for 3 days per week and Joe Tyssen for two days per week during the lockdown period in 2020.  For these reasons I have relied heavily on PVV at High Riggs for providing me with plug plants during the Springtime.
  • Spatial design including infrastructure: The horticulture area is 36x36 metres.  This is divided into four quarters with pathways constructed with timber edging and crushed gravel topdressing.  These pathways have proved to be very hardwearing.  They are built using a thick landscape fabric underneath the gravel to surpress the weeds.  There is a centre circle built using standing stones. The quarters contain raised beds.  These raised beds are sized appropriately using the golden ratio.  Therefore the bed sizes are uniform at 2400mm x 3880mm.  The grass areas are also designed along golden ratio principles.
  • Crop storage: Currently limited to the barn and the interior kitchen.  We store onions and garlic in the traditional way inside the barn.  The potatoes are stored in cool dark conditions. We do have a freezer and soft fruit has been stored in this way. We have also made blackcurrant cordial, stored in sterile bottles to prolong the life. Long term preservation of crops is an interest of mine and one which I try to include the students in.  The art of making jams and compotes is something I have been working on for many years, trying to capture the quality of the crop at its most optimum level.
  • Tools, equipment, machinery: Broadfork, rakes, wheelbarrows, spades, forks, hoes, handtools, hosepipes, grass cutting tractor, rotivator. For the building of the raised beds, oak sleepers, impact driver, drill, landscape fabric, timber fix screws, spirit level. For the second quarter I used a mini digger to remove the majority of the topsoil as it was a very manual job last time around.
  • Market strategies: As we have quite limited growing spaces the food we produce is either used at the Eyam Edge Site for staff and student food or it is sent to the school kitchen so that it can be used for feeding the staff and students there.
  • Buildings: All of the tools are stored in the main barn. We made a small polytunnel for the tomatos and peppers and basil. This is a temporary measure, and whilst it is working brilliantly as a warm space it is difficult to work in and water.
  • Organic / BD Certification: At the current time we are not eligible for Demeter certification due to the fact that we grow our crops in imported topsoil.  I have considered organic status but this will need to be thought through as it is a three year process. What is important is that we abide by the principles of Biodynamics and organic growing and that we ensure that these principles are communicated to all visitors because this is a vital part of our philosophy as part of RMT.
  • Finances: The cost of developments is relatively low, given that no external contractors are used.  All the materials are chosen for longevity and suitability for purpose. For example, using Oak for raised beds means that they will still be in use in 30 years time.  Avoiding pressure treated timber means that harmful contaminants will not enter the growing beds and food produced.
  • Landscape and habitats: There was a clear need to protect the wildflowers that grow on the site, many are rare such as Orchids and Pennywort. There is much more about this in the biodiveristy survey.  After a mow at the start of the season the grass has been left with pathways through the wildflower meadows.  This early mow I have found improves the display and diversity of wildflowers later in the season.

 

1.3 Create a revenue/capital budget

 

Capital Budget

 

Cost of seeds from Seed Cooperative £114.20

Plug plants from Marshalls:

Swede Marian £1.99

Parsnip White Gem £1.99

Sage x 3 £9.99

Fennel x3 £9.99

Tomato Shirley x3 £9.99

Celariac Monarch x12 £7.99

Total £74.90

 

JPR Gold Organic Soil Improver £400

Topsoil £400

 

Total cost for this year's horticulture production

£989.10

 

Revenue Budget

Figures not available at the present time

 

1.4 Discuss your choice for your market strategies

 

Market strategies would be to make the food available to the chef at Eyam to use in the lunchtime meals.  This has been successful.  We also send fresh vegetables to Brantwood School.  In the future a limited number of veg boxes could be produced, or we could sell at the farm gate using an honesty box system.  Further market strategies could include:

 

  • Processing produce to produce bottled fruit concentrates
  • Pressing fruit for apple juice
  • Drying or selling fresh herbs
  • Making essential oils
  • Making flavoured oils eg chilli & garlic oil

 

Now we need to have a formal financial arrangement with Brantwood regarding the cost of the vegetables produced.

 

2.1 Demonstrate the ability to deliver the day to day care of horticultural crops

 

The photo below shows the netting removed from the red and white cabbages.  They look absolutely brilliant and they have been protected from cabbage white butterflies.  In the background the polytunnel has been constructed with blue waterpipe hoops and polytunnel plastic from High Riggs.  This polytunnel has provided effective shelter and warmth for the tender crops.  Futher measures shown here are physical supports for the sweetpeas just to the right of the polytunnel.

 

 

The soft fruit bed showing wire supports, pruning, weeded soil and addition of compost as a top dressing right at the start of the season on 14th April.  The soft fruit consists of raspberry on the right summer fruiting variety.  Blackcurrants on the right at the top end and red currants further down on the right.  As can be seen from the trees in the background the soft fruit is the first thing to break into leaf.  I am still working on the construction of the raised beds on the left of the picture.  We do not have rabbits troubling us, but squirrels frequently pinch the fruit and even break into the building.  Escaping chickens can also be a problem, so I am always mindful of keeping the various animals in their place.

 

 

2.2 Demonstrate the ability to care for your work environment

 

I think that the work environment should be regarded as the whole of the site.  This could be broadly divided into the horticulture area and other gardens; the animal housing and fenced areas; and the building - both workshop and classroom.  Given my role it falls to me to keep these areas in top condition.  For the three broad areas the following measures are taken to ensure that they function efficiently and effectively:

 

Horticulture and Garden Areas

 

  • Mowing and strimming across the cultivated parts of the site.
  • Weeding and mulching of trees and hedging.
  • Watering.
  • Tree planting.
  • Trimming and maintaining hedge lines and boundaries.
  • Composting suitable materials for fertility building purposes.
  • Managing construction materials and ensuring aesthetic principles underpin designs.
  • Use of local materials to ensure harmonius designs and aesthetics.
  • Planting of flowers in conjunction with vegetables for aesthetics and biodiversity.
  • Allowing wild flower areas to flourish.
  • Placing seating, swings, tables and firepits in suitable locations.
  • Etc. etc.

 

Animal Housing and Enclosures

 

  • Cleaning accommodation at least twice weekly.
  • Building and maintaining physical and electric fencing.
  • Composting bedding materials for efficiency and fertility building.
  • Ensuring the health of the animals through checks, veternary visits and appropriate feed.
  • Taking care of the physical buildings and water resistance of roofing etc,
  • Carrying out routine animal tasks such as hoof trimming, worming, grooming, birthing etc.
  • Locking housing as appropriate to weather and keeping the chickens safe.
  • Protecting the animals from the elements during inclement weather.
  • Etc. Etc.

 

Buildings - workshop and classroom and toilets

 

  • Cleaning, sweeping, painting.
  • Ensuring cleanliness of kitchen areas.
  • Rubbish removal and recycling.
  • Storage of crops.
  • Storage of biodynamic preparations.
  • Storage of spraying equipment.
  • Provision of a vibrant learning environment including books and resources.
  • Display of photographs or students engaged in activities.
  • Lighting of fires and storage of firewood.
  • Processing of firewood and kindling.
  • Correct and safe tool storage in locked toolstore.
  • Sharpening of tools and implements.
  • Storage of garden tools.
  • Etc. Etc.

 

2.3 Demonstrate the ability to communicate about the daily work within your work team

 

At Eyam Edge Farm we have daily visits from numerous students and staff and I manage the day to day activities necessary for a Steiner based 'Garden Curriculum' as part of this process.  This usually takes the form of a 'Jobs Board', chalked up on the outside of the building and divided into various categories and activities suitable for different ages and abilities.  The divisions would normally be:

 

  • Animal Husbandry (Biodynamic Agriculture)
  • Horticulture (Biodynamic Agriculture)
  • Design and Build (Practical Skills Therapeutic Education)
  • Creative Opportunities eg collecting minerals and metal detecting (Genius Loci)

 

This provides a flexible and student centred approach to outdoor learning as outlined in 'The Tasks and Content of the Steiner Curriculum'  For the purposes of this unit it is necessary to focus on Horticulture and specifically the 'Garden Curriculum'

 

 

Over the past three years I have been focusing on developing a multitude of horticultural learning experiences at the Eyam Edge Farm.  By this I mean building and creating spaces which can facilitate student learning in a range of categories.  Three such spaces that I have designed, built and planted up over the last three years are:

 

The Sensory Garden - predominantly growing flowers and herbs

 

'The Dye Garden' - designed specifically to grow, process and produce natural colour.

'The Horticulture Area' - growing vegetables, soft fruit and herbs for the school kitchens.

 

In this unit I will be focusing predominantly on the 'Horticulture Area'.

 

In early 2017 a plan was hatched to create a square growing area with approximately 1400sq metres of total extent. (36x36metres). This was designed and drawn up by Pieter Van Vilet for approval from the RMT Executive Team.  Once approved it was up to me to work out how to implement the design, constrained as we were by having to grow in raised, fabric lined beds with imported topsoil.

 

Some of the initial rough ideas for the areas are shown below:

 

 

I then made a 3D model of the site which meant I was able to visualise the design from different angles and adjust the design based on visual appeal and spacing.  This was incredibly useful and it allowed for fine tuning before actually building.  The 3D model is scaled exactly so it is possible to see how things will look on the ground.  The following images show this process.

 

 

2.4 Demonstrate the ability to care for the quality of the enterprise products

 

Following the design stages I built the raised beds and managed the way they were filled.  The following images show how much care and attention has been put into the crops. There have been a number of measures to ensure preservation of the crops and these are listed below:

 

  • Storage of potatoes in hessain sacks kept in darkness
  • Drying and hanging of onions
  • Freezing soft fruit for various future purposes
  • Rapid harvest to kitchen on a daily basis
  • Drying and hanging of garlic
  • Drying and hanging of Camomile and other important flowers
  • Pickling of beetroot

 

 

 

2.5 Demonstrate the ability to implement basic recording

 

This website and the numerous sections within it are my record of the development of the Eyam Site.  The projects section shows a photographic record of the various parts of the site, including the overall vision document that I am working to implement. In addition I keep a weekly record of the activities that take place each week. These are available separately as Word documents dating back to 2017.

 

3.1 Demonstrate how you engage RMT students with horticultural activities

 

This is the most important section of the unit.  Everything I have done is aimed with students in mind, as the work done on the site is all designed to facilitate a garden curriculum and a purposeful PSTE environment. So below I list some of the ways that we have engaged students in horticulture at Eyam Edge Farm over the past couple of years:

 

  • Planting bulbs
  • Pollarding willow and planting willow stems
  • Making and positioning bird feeders
  • Harvesting, seed collecting, egg collecting etc.
  • Assisting with compost making and turning.
  • Cultivating herbs, cutting and drying.
  • Raking leaves for leaf mould / composting.
  • Collecting comfrey and making liquid feeds.
  • Promoting habitat for and observing insect life.
  • Making craft items out of natural materials eg. baskets.
  • Preparing for festivals.
  • Correct use of tools.
  • Sieving compost.
  • Preparing beds.
  • Cultivating.
  • Hoeing.
  • Mowing grass with a sickle.
  • Cutting thistles with a cutting tool.
  • Making flower bunches.
  • Weeding.
  • Pricking out
  • Potting on.
  • Mixing special composts eg. seed composts
  • Discovering geological history.
  • Making new beds, using lines and drilling seeds.
  • Cleaning vegetables for consumption.
  • Harvesting herbs and making herb teas.
  • Making wreaths
  • Tree planting
  • Processing firewood
  • Using green wood
  • Repairing tools
  • Manufacturing foods from crops eg jams, pickles, cordials, salts.
  • Establishing, maintaining and harvesting willow beds.
  • Coppicing hazel.
  • Making charcoal.
  • Propagation techniques.
  • Pruning.
  • Grafting.

 

4.1 Reflect on your own learning

 

The Biodynamic portfolio and the website in general contains a wide range of my reflections on my learning in relation to growing, problem solving and the creation of learning opportunities for other staff and students at the Eyam Edge site.

 

In general I would reflect on this 'Project - Horticultural Production' in the following ways:

 

  • The design and build aspects of this project have taught me a great deal.
  • Watching the crops grow and responding to their various requirements is difficult and challenging.
  • Coping with little manual help can end in injuries and worn out muscles and energies.
  • Keeping up with the demands placed by Biodynamic practices is time consuming.
  • Developing a large site with multiple ongoing projects is difficult when students are in attendance.
  • Keeping on top of maintenance is a full time job in itself.
  • It is incredibly rewarding to take a project from start to finish.
  • It is incredibly rewarding to see students engage with learning in purpose built spaces.
  • It is incredibly helpful to have the support of High Riggs and Pieter Van Vilet.
  • The work involved in major horticulture projects should not be underestimated.
  • The work involved in growing a wide range of crops for human consumption should not be underestimated.

 

4.2 Reflect on a research theme that emerged for you during the project

 

  • I am very interested in the art and science of compost building and I regard this as one of the most important aspects of the farm organism.  Building the heaps, watering, preparations are all things that I wish to continue developing, not just because of the value of good compost, but because teaching students about the process creates a lifelong skill that exemplifies all of the good practice of organic and biodynamic practice.  Composting illustrates Nature's recycling system and as such provides lessons that are applicable to many aspects of living a sustainable life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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